The Glendale couple thought that their in vitro fertilization treatment had failed. But Anni and Ashot Manukyan were seized with anguish and horror when they learned that, on the other side of the country, a stranger had been implanted with their embryo then given birth to their baby boy.
On Wednesday, the Manukyans filed a lawsuit against Los Angeles’ CHA Fertility Center alleging negligent infliction of emotional distress and medical malpractice, among other infractions. The couple are seeking punitive and compensatory damages.
The lawsuit came only a few days after the other couple in New York, identified only as A.P. and Y.Z. in court filings, filed a separate lawsuit against CHA, alleging that their own embryos also were mishandled during the mix-up.
CHA did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
The Manukyans laid out the details of their case with their lawyer, Adam Wolf, at a Wednesday morning news conference in downtown Los Angeles and a subsequent interview with The Times.
“CHA robbed me of my ability to carry my own child, my baby boy,” Anni Manukyan said at the news conference, holding back tears.
In August 2018, the Manukyans said, an embryo was inserted into Anni Manukyan’s uterus. They thought it was their own; now, they say, they know it was someone else’s. This did not result in a pregnancy, so they tried again, going through another IVF cycle — meaning more hormonal injections, more medications and more “physical pain and mental distress,” the filing says.
The couple said they did not know at the time that their sperm and egg had been implanted into the New York woman, who gave birth to the Manukyans’ baby boy March 31, along with another baby whose sperm and egg came from a third, unrelated couple.
The New York couple are Korean American and the Manukyans are Armenian, and neither of the two baby boys that the New York woman gave birth to were of her own ethnicity.
“This case is among the most egregious I have ever seen,” Wolf said.
In addition to implanting the Manukyans’ embryo into another woman, the court filing says, the clinic transferred at least one embryo to Anni Manukyan that was not hers. “In other words, Anni was injected — against her will — with the sperm and egg of a man and woman who are complete strangers to her,” the document states.
The Manukyans also said that CHA destroyed a supposedly “abnormal” embryo without their consent. Anni Manukyan still does not know where at least one of her embryos went.
“What embryos did it transfer to Anni, and where did Anni and Ashot’s embryos go? They wake up every day thinking of that,” Wolf said in an interview with The Times. “So far, CHA has had no answers.”
“It [CHA] has never explained to us what happened to all of our embryos, leaving the possibility that my child, another child of mine, is somewhere out there,” Anni Manukyan said.
In October 2018, not knowing that their embryo had been implanted into another woman, Anni Manukyan started a second round of IVF treatments — which she and her husband now know were unnecessary. She developed precancerous cells in her uterus because of this second IVF treatment, the court filing says. She had a uterine biopsy several times and endured procedures to scrape these cells, causing her immense physical and emotional agony, she told The Times.
The Manukyans said they did not suspect anything was wrong with the IVF treatments until early April, when the chief operations officer of the clinic, Yumie Lee, asked the couple to come in for a cheek swab to get their DNA. Lee called it a “routine quality check procedure,” the suit says. At this meeting, Lee refused to thoroughly explain what the reason for the cheek swab test was, Anni Manukyan said. When she asked whether anything was wrong with the embryos, Lee laughed and told her, “Don’t worry; your embryos are completely fine,” Anni Manukyan said.
The next day, Lee asked the couple to come into the office. Lee had come prepared with a psychiatrist at hand to deliver the news: Their baby had been born almost two weeks earlier, more than 2,000 miles away from his parents. “Once she said that, I felt my heart beat outside of my body,” Anni Manukyan said.
Immediately, the couple started the process of getting their son back under the guidance of their legal team, which filed a habeas corpus petition in family court, the complaint says.
For the first six weeks of the Manukyans’ son’s life, the New York couple took care of him. Anni Manukyan says she is extremely grateful that the New York woman took her son under her wing and carried him for almost eight months (he was born prematurely).
“She’s a wonderful woman; I pray for her every day,” Anni Manukyan said.
The Manukyans are still in contact with the New York couple, they said at the news conference. The Manukyans say they have spent more than $125,000 on the various IVF treatments, in addition to undisclosed legal fees they had to pay in order to gain custody of their son.
The woman who birthed the Manukyans’ son in New York and her partner wanted to keep custody, the Glendale couple said. But the judge granted custody to the Manukyans, and 11 days after their arrival in New York, on May 13, they flew home to Los Angeles holding their son, Alec, the court filing says.
The first time Anni Manukyan held her son was in the lobby of a New York City hotel, almost six weeks after his birth. “I couldn’t wait to go and just hug him,” she said. “He was so delicate; he was so tiny.”